November 19, 2018
“Is X good for the Jews?” is a question that used to be relegated to explicitly “Jew for Jew” publications. Interestingly, at this point, there is virtually no difference whatsoever in the narratives of the New York Times and Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post or the Times of Israel. The key differentiating factor is that the explicitly Jewish publications continue to take a professional tone, whereas the New York Times, since A. G. Sulzberger took over from his father as publisher last year, has taken a nose-dive into Buzzfeed-tier clickbait listicle journalism.
Of course, e-tabloidism doesn’t make up the whole of NYT’s content. They still publish thousands of words long, rambling think pieces. But as stated, there is no longer an attempt to pretend that this content is something other than “Jews writing for other Jews.” Probably, there is a connection between the embrace of the Buzzfeed listicle and the dropping of the veneer of “this is explicitly Jewish media.” But that is a complicated question for another day – as is the question of why the NYT feels the need to be so aggressively Jewish when these articles explicitly for other Jews could be published in an explicitly Jewish publication.
Right now, let us consider this thing they published over the weekend about Jared and Ivanka Kushner.
In the weeks after a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in one of the most horrific acts of anti-Semitism in years, debates about the president’s role in stoking extremism have roiled American Jews — and forced an uncomfortable reckoning between Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and his daughter and son-in-law’s Jewish faith.
Rabbis and Jewish leaders have raged on Twitter and in op-eds, in sermons and over shabbat dinners, over how to reconcile the paradox of Jared Kushner, the descendant of Holocaust survivors, and Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism to marry Mr. Kushner.
To some Jews, the couple serves as a bulwark pushing the Trump administration toward pro-Israel policies, most notably the decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. To many others, they are the wolves in sheep’s clothing, allowing Mr. Trump to brush aside criticism that his words have fueled the uptick in violent attacks against Jews.
“For Jews who are deeply opposed to Donald Trump and truly believe he is an anti-Semite, it’s deeply problematic that he’s got a Jewish son-in-law and daughter. How can that be?” said Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.
Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump serve as senior advisers in the White House. At a time when Judaism is under assault — the F.B.I. said this week that anti-Semitic attacks have increased in each of the last three years — they are unabashedly Orthodox, observing shabbat each week, walking to an Orthodox Chabad shul near their Kalorama home in Washington, D.C., dropping their children off at Jewish day school and hanging mezuzas on the doors of their West Wing offices.
After the Pittsburgh attack, Mr. Kushner played a key role in Mr. Trump (eventually) decrying “the scourge of anti-Semitism.” And Mr. Kushner helped arrange the president’s visit to the Squirrel Hill synagogue, including inviting Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States to accompany them. There, in Pittsburgh, thousands marched to protest what one organizer described as the insult of the Mr. Trump’s visit.
The White House has referenced Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump’s religion to dismiss accusations that Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened anti-Semites. “The president is the grandfather of several Jewish grandchildren,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, told reporters.
Using the couple in this way has unnerved many Jews who oppose the president and say Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump violated the sacred, if sometimes unspoken, communal code that mandates Jews take care of each other during times of struggle. “I’m more offended by Jared than I am by President Trump,” said Eric Reimer, a lawyer in New York who was on Mr. Kushner’s trivia team at The Frisch School, a modern Orthodox yeshiva in New Jersey that they both attended.
“We, as Jews, are forced to grapple with the fact that Jared and his wife are Jewish, but Jared is participating in acts of Chillul Hashem,” said Mr. Reimer, using the Hebrew term for when a Jew behaves immorally while in the presence of others.
For Mr. Reimer, who hasn’t spoken to Mr. Kushner since high school, one of those incidents was the administration’s Muslim ban, which prompted members of the Frisch community to sign an open letter to Mr. Kushner imploring him “to exercise the influence and access you have to annals of power to ensure others don’t suffer the same fate as millions of our co-religionists.”
Leah Pisar, president of the Aladdin Project, a Paris-based group that works to counter Holocaust denial, and whose late father, Samuel Pisar, escaped Auschwitz and advised John F. Kennedy, said she found it “inconceivable that Jared could stay affiliated with the administration after Pittsburgh” and called Mr. Kushner the president’s “fig leaf.”
Those kinds of accusations are anathema to other Jews, particularly a subset of Orthodox Jews who accused liberal Jews of politicizing the Pittsburgh attack and who say that any policies that would weaken Israel are the ultimate act of anti-Semitism.
“Jared and Ivanka are one of us as traditional Jews who care deeply about Israel,” said Ronn Torossian, a New York publicist whose children attend the Ramaz School, the same Upper East Side yeshiva where Mr. Kushner’s eldest daughter Arabella was once enrolled. “I look at them as part of our extended family.”
Even some Jews who dislike Mr. Trump’s policies and recoil at his political style may feel a reluctance to criticize the country’s most prominent Orthodox Jewish couple, grappling with the age-old question that has haunted the Jewish psyche for generations: Yes, but is it good for the Jews?
Talk to enough Jews about Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump, and you begin to realize that the couple has become a sort of Rorschach test, with defenders and detractors seeing what they want to see as it relates to larger rifts about Jewish identity.
“It’s not about Jared and Ivanka,” said Matthew Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “People look at them through the prism of their own worldviews.”
Those worldviews are rapidly changing. One in five American Jews now describes themselves as having no religion and identifying as Jews based only on ancestry, ethnicity or culture, according to Pew. By contrast, in the 1950s, 93 percent of American Jews identified as Jews based on religion.
As Jews retreat from membership to reform synagogues, historically made up of political liberals who were at the forefront of the fight for Civil Rights and other progressive issues, Chabad-Lubavitch, the Orthodox Hasidic group with which Mr. Kushner is affiliated, has become a rapidly-growing Jewish movement. The growth of Chabad correlates with fierce divisions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a small but growing contingent of American Jews who prioritize Israel above any other political or social issue.
Mr. Kushner, in particular, has become a sort of proxy for these larger schisms about faith and Israel, according to Jewish experts. “There is a great deal of anxiety around the coming of the Orthodox,” said Dr. Sarna, the Brandeis professor. “Jared in every way — his Orthodoxy, his Chabad ties, his views on Israel — symbolizes those changes.”
Mr. Kushner is the scion of wealthy real-estate developers and his family has donated millions of dollars to the Jewish community, including through a foundation that gives to settlements in the West Bank. Mr. Kushner influenced the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy, to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, and to shutter a Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a better supporter of Israel than Donald Trump and Jared plays a role in that,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush. Mr. Kushner is currently working on a Middle East peace plan expected to be rolled out in the coming months.
That embrace has only exacerbated tensions with secular Jews who overwhelmingly vote Democratic and oppose Mr. Trump. According to a 2018 survey by the American Jewish Committee, 41 percent of Jews said they strongly disagree with Mr. Trump’s handling of U.S.-Israeli relations and 71 percent had an overall unfavorable opinion of Mr. Trump. (In response to questions for this story, a White House press aide referred reporters to an Ami magazine poll of 263 Orthodox Jews in the tristate area published in August. Eighty-two percent said they would vote for President Trump in 2020.)
“To wave a flag and say ‘Oh, he’s obviously pro-Jewish because he moved the embassy’ just absolutely ignores what we know to be a deeply alarming rise of anti-Semitism and all sorts of dog-whistling and enabling of the alt-right,” said Andy Bachman, a prominent progressive rabbi in New York.
In September, Mr. Kushner and his top advisers, Jason D. Greenblatt and Avi Berkowitz, hosted a private dinner at the Pierre Hotel on the Upper East Side. Over a kosher meal, Mr. Kushner, aware of concerns within the Jewish community that Israel policy had become an overly partisan issue, fielded the advice of a range of Jewish leaders, including hedge-fund billionaire and Republican donor Paul Singer and Mr. Saban, to craft his Middle East peace plan. “He called and said ‘I’ll bring 10 Republicans and you bring 10 Democrats,’” Mr. Saban said.
The undertaking will only bring more kvetching about Mr. Kushner. Indeed, some of Mr. Trump’s most ardent Jewish supporters have already expressed their displeasure at any deal that would require Israel to give up land.
“I’m not happy with Jared promoting a peace deal that’s sending a message that we’re ready to ignore the horrors of the Palestinian regime,” said Morton A. Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America and a friend of Republican megadonor Sheldon G. Adelson.
“But …” Mr. Klein added, as if self-aware of how other Jews will view his position, “I am a fanatical, pro-Israel Zionist.”
So as you can see, no conclusions are drawn here whatsoever.
These Jews are simply laying out the various factors involved in the conflict between the Jews.
What is interesting here is that these Jews – and I believe all Jews – are taking it for granted that Jared Kushner being in the White House is good for Israel – but that this is, in fact, the core of the problem. Even after the synagogue shooting – which the Jewish media universally blamed on Donald Trump – Jews are unable to form a united ethnic front against President Trump because Jared Kushner is doing things that are objectively good for Israel.
So the question this article is actually asking is: is the fact that Trump is good for Israel good for Jews?
The mainstream secular, liberal Jews of the West would prefer that the President was doing nothing for Israel, so as there would be no ability for him to divide the Jewish community.
This is really a continuation of the old Zionist conflict within the Jewish community: many Jews were very uncomfortable with the formation of a Jewish state, because Jews understand what they are: a people that feeds off of the labor of other peoples through various schemes. They are a race incapable of true nationalism, because their entire evolution is based on parasitism.
After the alleged Holocaust, however – something which Jews genuinely believe happened, not because of any facts, but because they are emotionally-driven creatures who, like women, believe that reality is created in their own minds – a much larger percentage of Jews believe that it is necessary for them to have a headquarters of operations that they can flee to if times get rough in the land of the goyim.
But if Trump is causing a situation where things are more and more likely to get rough for Jews in the land of the goyim – and I think it is fair to say that this is indeed happening – then you have a math equation with unquantifiable variables: is it more important to mitigate potentially rough times for the Jews, or to strengthen the protections against potentially rough times for the Jews?
Clearly, the overwhelming majority of diaspora Jews either do not view the safety net that Israel provides as of key importance, or do not believe, in a cost-benefit analysis, that Trump’s strengthening of Israel outweighs Trump’s empowering of white people to take on a tribal identity.
But there remain a minority of American Jews – about 25% – who will continue to support Trump simply because of his support for Israel.
And now that we understand the Jewish dilemma, it is my turn:
Are Jared and Ivanka Good for the Whites?
Rather than go into detail about the two sides of this argument, I am just going to start with a straight answer: “no.”
It is as clear to me as it is to the Jews that Trump is using Jared Kushner, and the aggressive support for Israel that Kushner represents, as a way to try and protect himself from attacks from American Jews.
I am an idealist, but I am also a man who believes that every means is justified by the ends. So if Trump’s plan to give overwhelming support to Israel had resulted in a significant portion of American Jews getting off of his back, then I would evaluate the value of that.
However, we are two years in, and it is abundantly clear that Trump being an extreme advocate of Israel – recently getting dragged into this whole horrible Khasoggi debacle for the sake of Israel – has resulted in absolutely no tangible gains whatsoever. Virtually every single major neocon Jew has refused to let up on him. William Krystol, Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin – these rabidly pro-Israel neocon Jews are just as vitriolic towards Trump as Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer.
What’s more: Zionist Democrat Jews like Dianne Feinstein, who signed a declaration calling for moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, actually went so far as to attack him for moving it!
President Trump has gained absolutely nothing by being a friend to Israel. And he is acutely aware of that fact.
So why not change course?
Obviously, he can’t be anti-Israel, because such a large percentage of his base is made up of lunatic Israel-first Evangelicals. But those people are not even a little bit intelligent, and all he needs to do to keep them happy is to pose with Netanyahu a couple times a year and say “I support Israel.” He doesn’t need to get involved with this bizzaro Pulp Fiction Saudi Arabia drama, because Evangelicals have absolutely no understanding whatsoever of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and probably 100% of those evangelicals, if polled, would say that Saudi Arabia is an enemy of Israel, because that is just how stupid they are.
He is certainly under no obligation to allow Kushner to use Ivanka to pressure him into making unnecessary anti-white statements after Charlottesville or unnecessary pro-Jew statements after Pittsburgh. All that does is demoralize his base.
Furthermore, no one knows the extent to which Kushner is meddling in other things.
We know that he was the only one who had direct contact with the Russians before the election, which certainly was not helpful to Trump. Kushner was in fact the one who directed Michael Flynn to contact the Russians before the inauguration, which resulted in Flynn’s firing and then the whole “obstruction” aspect of the Mueller probe. He’s got a list of other scandals that are being used against the President. And then this whole Saudi disaster.
So the bottom line is that while I do understand having Kushner around as a realpolitik protection from organized Jewry, that strategy has failed, and it is time to admit that and move on.